EASTER IV SUNDAY: ACTS 4: 8-12; I JN 3: 1-2; JOHN 10:11-18
There is the story of a particular census taker who went to a poor home in the mountains of West Virginia to gather information. He asked the mother how many children she had. The woman began, "Well, there is Rosie, and Billy, and Susie, Harry, and Jeffrey. There's Johnny, and Harvey, and our dog, Willie. The census taker interrupted her and said: "No, ma'am, that's not necessary. I only need the humans. "Ah," she said. And began to pronounce the names of the children. Once again, the census taker interrupted her and said, "No, ma'am, I just need the numbers." The old woman replied, "But I don't know them by numbers. I only know them by name." In today's gospel Jesus the good shepherd says that he knows his sheep by name.
The fourth Sunday of Easter is known as Good Shepherd Sunday. It is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. The scripture lessons are about shepherds. Each year on this Sunday we reflect on the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, devotedly taking care of his flock.
The picture of a shepherd can suggest many new ways of thinking about God. A shepherd would die, to protect his sheep. A shepherd would know his sheep, and his sheep, know him. A good shepherd could tend a great many sheep. He would be loved, by the owner of the sheep, for caring so much for them. With all this image of a shepherd, Jesus shows us what God is here to do for us.
Many years ago a woman carrying a baby through the hills of South Wales, England, was overtaken by a blizzard. Searchers found her later frozen to death in the snow. Amazed that she had no outer garments on, they searched further and found her baby. She had wrapped them around the child, who was still alive and well. He grew up to be David Lloyd George, the Prime Minister of Great Britain. Like this woman Jesus the good shepherd laid down his life for his sheep.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said, "When a chap is in love, he will go out in all kinds of weather to keep an appointment with his beloved. Love can be demanding; in fact, more demanding than law. It has its own imperatives. Think of a mother sitting by the bedside of a sick child through the night, impelled only by love. Nothing is too much trouble for love." Jesus makes it clear as he draws near the cross that his motivation is love. He is choosing to make this sacrifice. He is choosing to be faithful to what God has put before him.
There is a tale that in the first century a man came to Tertullian, a father in the early church. And in trying to justify some compromises the man had felt he had to make, commented, "I have to live, don't I?" to which Tertullian is reported to have said, "Do you?" The challenge is to focus away from self and to others, to ask where our real values are- survival only, or living as to make a difference. A good shepherd makes a difference with his life.
Jesus the Good Shepherd knows us, provides for us and loves us. Except Jesus who is the Shepherd, we all play the roles of shepherds and sheep at the same time. The challenge is that we should be good shepherds to those entrusted to our care. We become good shepherds by loving those entrusted to us, praying for them, spending our time and talents for their welfare, and guarding them from physical and spiritual dangers.
He leads us to the cool waters of Church teaching, a clear, refreshing stream that never stops flowing and is never polluted. He leads us to the rich, grassy meadows of the sacraments, where we can feed on his grace for free, without ever having to worry about famines or droughts. He truly is our good shepherd.
But are we good sheep? Most of us want to be; that's why we are here today. But even if we already are good sheep, without a doubt we can become better sheep, if we make a more responsible and active use of the supernatural resources that Christ came all the way down from heaven to give us.
Today, as he renews his commitment to us, let's renew our commitment to him, and promise him that this week, we will be better sheep than ever.